Tomorrow at sundown, the first of the Jewish high holidays, Rosh Hashana, will begin. This holiday signals the beginning of the Jewish new year.
Years ago, one of the physicians I worked with would talk with me about Rosh Hashana. I listened because I knew it was important to him. I was young. I was not ready or engaged enough to listen fully and hear all he shared with me.
The relationship the two of us had was something I took for granted. We were friends. We were both able to leave our work roles at the door and be ourselves. We could lean on each other one minute and get upset with each other the next. It wasn’t until I left Iowa that I realized I had been gifted a very rare and unique friend.
The last Rosh Hashana I remember sitting with him and toasting the new year was the year the holiday fell on my birthday. It was significant, he said, it meant the year ahead would be a special one for me.
I thought of my friend many times these past few days while I read about Rosh Hashana. It seemed appropriate to me since the part of the holiday he stressed was the looking back on the year passed. It was important for him to look carefully at mistakes he’d made so those mistakes would not be carried on.
I have to tell you, reading about this holiday is overwhelming. It was difficult to know where and when to stop. One huge reward of the research was being reminded of how beautifully the Jewish faith uses symbolism. An example follows which illustrates the tradition of Tashlich, which translates to “casting off sins.”
In some communities, according to Lesli Kippelman Ross’ article found in myjewishlearning.com, before sunset the evening of Rosh Hashana, people walk to a running stream or river, throwing in pieces of bread. These breadcrumbs symbolize their sins of the past year, tossed away so they are not carried into the new year. As the crumbs travel downstream, the last verses of the prophet, Micah are read: “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities, you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
Special Rosh Hashana services are held at the synagogue where a ram’s horn, the Shofar, is blown. The sound of the Shofar is part of the high holidays and is used to remind people to go within for deep personal reflection.
Rabbi Yonah Hain of Columbia/Barnad Hillel, tells us that the Shofar is an alarm telling us to take stock. He was asked, is this holiday about celebrating the past year or is it about reflecting upon the lessons learned? Rabbi Hain feels it is up to the individual to determine what the year has been. What is more important is to put those lessons learned into action over the months to come. Go out and greet your family and friends, he says, with a sincere and strong “Shana tova.” Shana tova translates to “may it be a great year.”
I love you.